Featuring: Krishna Tamakuwala, PharmD
By: Justin Budz, PharmD
Krishna Tamakuwala is a recent graduate from the St. John’s University Doctor of Pharmacy program, class of 2023. Krishna always knew she wanted to go into the medical field. Besides her passion for the sciences, Krishna also enjoyed cooking. She found it interesting how certain aspects of pharmacy practice were similar to cooking, such as following a formula to compound various preparations, ultimately helping her choose the pharmacy profession. Going into her final year of school, Krishna was on the fence between pursuing a fellowship or residency. To help her decide, she ranked her early APPE rotations to have a good mix of industry-related and clinical experiences. As she got closer to the application period, she realized that she more so enjoyed the clinical side of pharmacy practice. As a result, Krishna pursued residency applications, where she was able to match with her top choice residency program at North Shore University Hospital.
What is a residency?
Residency is additional post-graduate training ranging from 1 to 2 years. The first year (PGY1) is just general training where you get a glimpse of the different areas in pharmacy practice. During this time, if you find an area that you’re passionate about, you can specialize in it during your second year (PGY2). There are various fields that you can specialize in, like ambulatory care, internal medicine, infectious diseases, and cardiology, among many others!
What made you want to pursue a residency?
I loved the idea of working alongside a team of healthcare professionals to bring together different perspectives and mindsets to ultimately benefit the patient. As a clinical pharmacist, you also get to practice at the top of your license by challenging yourself with different disease states and medical scenarios that you might not otherwise encounter in the typical community setting.
How did you begin researching residencies?
Originally, I didn’t know where to start. However, going through different clinical APPE rotations helped me decide what to look for in different residency programs. I would learn about the residency programs offered by the sites I was at for APPEs. I would also look into different programs based on my interests in electives they offered; specifically, I was interested in ambulatory care. Location was also a big factor for me when I was considering different programs because I wanted to stay close to home. Lastly, looking to see if the program is accredited is also important because it can help you apply for PGY2 and jobs in the future.
Did you have the opportunity to meet with residency programs prior to applications?
Yeah, so I went to Midyear which was super helpful because you got to meet with a lot of programs outside of New York. Going to Midyear did change my mind about what programs I wanted to apply to because I was able to talk to the current residents at different institutions to get an understanding of what they liked and didn’t like about their respective programs. The in-person interactions definitely helped make an impact in my application process by helping me build a network with residents, preceptors, and program directors, while also helping me narrow down my selections for applications.
Around what time do you apply for residencies and how do you submit applications?
After Midyear in December, you have some time to work up your CV and letter of intent for different programs. During the first or second week of January, the application portal opens for residencies. Most residency programs will require your CV, which outlines all your APPEs, work experience, publications, research, leadership opportunities, etc. Residency programs will also require a letter of intent, which more specifically highlights why you are interested in a specific residency program and the unique experiences you have that are relevant to their particular program. Lastly, residency programs will require three letters of recommendation. Usually, at least two of them must be from a clinical preceptor.
What experiences should students focus on while they’re still in school to help them stand out on their CV or applications?
I definitely think research experience would be a bonus because not many students can say that they conducted research and presented a poster. For example, I was fortunate enough to present a poster at Midyear. This helps you stand out not only because you were able to accomplish a project but because it gives you talking points during your interview. I would also say your work and APPE experiences are important because they too give you various talking points for interviews. Programs want to hear about specific scenarios where you were able to go above and beyond to help a patient, or scenarios where you were able to develop skillsets in leadership, teamwork, communication, etc.
What can students expect during residency interviews?
Residency interviews can be overwhelming depending on how many programs you apply to. I had six interviews, but I scheduled them back-to-back which made it more difficult. Most of my interviews were in-person. Depending on the program, some may be in-person while others may be virtual. Interviews range anywhere from four to six hours. During the interviews, the current residents, preceptors, and residency program director will be present. The interview time is divided, giving everyone an opportunity to get to know you. The beginning is usually the residency program director and the residents telling you more about their program. Next, the preceptors will ask you clinical questions. These are usually on-the-spot patient case scenarios so you can’t really prepare for them specifically. However, I think it would help to refresh yourself on the current guidelines of common diseases. For example, a lot of my patient cases were on infectious diseases. At the end of the interview, you’re given the opportunity to talk to the residents and ask any questions that may still be on your mind. My biggest advice is to be yourself during the interview. Don’t try to make up a significant intervention or experience you may have had but instead be able to talk about any small intervention that made a big impact on the patient. Being genuine is very important!
What is Midyear and how is it related to the residency process?
Midyear is a conference that a majority of residency programs from across the country attend. Each program will have their own individual booth set up at the conference. It can be a maze navigating all the booths so I would recommend checking the ASHP website beforehand. On the website, they post all the locations of each program booth which can help you have a layout of which booths you want to visit. At each booth, you’ll usually see the residency program director, a few preceptors, and the current residents. Midyear is really the time for you to ask questions to get to know each residency program. I would recommend researching each program and having a prepared list of any questions before you go to Midyear. It’s important to remember that the interviews are when the residency programs will get to know you more so Midyear is the time for you to get to know the programs and “interview” them.
When can students expect to find out about residency acceptances?
Match Day is in mid-March. Typically, you have interviews from late-January to early-February. You find out if you match or didn’t match via email. Afterwards, you can apply to phase two if you would still like to pursue a residency.
What is your biggest tip for students going into the residency process?
I would suggest speaking to current residents or alumni who have gone through the residency application process. Building connections is also very important. Pharmacy is a small world so when you go on rotations, make the most out of them because you never know who you might meet and work with along the way. Always putting your best foot forward and challenging yourself on rotations will help you stand out from other students as well. Lastly, to help relieve some stress during interviews, you can take APPE periods 8 or 9 off. Picking off-periods between December through February can help you have more time to focus on meeting with different programs, preparing application materials, and studying guidelines to get ready for interviews.
On behalf of the Rho Chi Post, we would like to thank Krishna for sharing her experience through the residency process with our RCP community!